Venezuela Issues Arrest Warrant for Fugitive Mayor Charged with Corruption

A Venezuelan court has issued an arrest warrant and requested that the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) apprehend the mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales, who fled to Peru and sought political asylum this week to avoid being tried for corruption.

By James Suggett – Venezuelanalysis.com

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Maracaibo Mayor Manuel Rosales (YVKE).
Maracaibo Mayor Manuel Rosales (YVKE).
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Mérida, April 24th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - A Venezuelan court has issued an arrest warrant and requested that the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) apprehend the mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales, who fled to Peru and sought political asylum this week to avoid being tried for corruption.

"Manuel Rosales has demonstrated that he is not willing to submit himself to the legal process," Caracas Judge Reina Morandy stated in a press release Thursday. "An arrest warrant against him was issued."

Wilmer Flores, the director of Venezuela's national Criminal, Penal, and Scientific Investigation Body (CICPC), confirmed Thursday that "the Interpol has already issued a red alert for the capture of Manuel Rosales. Any country that has knowledge of the presence of this citizen should inform the Venezuelan state and turn him over to the authorities."

Foreign Relations Minister Nicolás Maduro appealed to the international community to respect the integrity of the Venezuelan judicial system and assist in the capture of Rosales. "Our aspiration is that the countries who are members of international conventions for combating crime will comply with them in a strict manner," he said.

Last month, following lengthy investigations by the Attorney General's office and a special commission in the National Assembly, a Venezuelan prosecutor charged Rosales with illicit enrichment during his previous term as governor of Zulia state.

Among the charges is a discrepancy of 147,000 bolivars ($68,370) between Rosales's declared earnings and actual income between the years 2002-2004, when he was governor.

Clodosbaldo Russián, the head of Venezuela's national anti-corruption office, said during an interview on state television Thursday, "The anti-corruption office called on Rosales to present his arguments regarding this discordance, and he responded that he had obtained [the money] selling beef. The problem is that he never declared that he had those farms, or cattle." 

According to Venezuelan laws against corruption, Rosales faces between 3 and 10 years in prison if convicted of stealing public funds or accepting bribes for public contracts.

In early April, Rosales's political party declared that he had gone into hiding, and said the corruption charges against him were a form of political persecution by the government of President Hugo Chávez.

Rosales lost the 2006 presidential election to Chávez by a margin of 26% of the popular vote, with his public image tainted by his participation in the two-day coup d'etat against Chávez in April 2002.

Last October, Chávez declared that Rosales should be convicted and thrown in jail for corruption, spurring subsequent investigations of Rosales's finances.

After failing to show up for a court appointment this week, Rosales turned up in Lima, Peru, apparently on a tourist visa. A former official of the right-wing government of ex-Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, Javier Valle Riestra, told the press he had filed a request for political asylum on Rosales's behalf.

During a brief press conference in Lima Thursday, Rosales railed against the Chávez government. "Soon I will return [to Venezuela] because all tyrannies have their time and duration," he said. "A democrat does not surrender himself to a dictator, especially if the dictator is a coward," said Rosales, referring to Chávez.

Following the declarations, Valle Riestra advised Rosales to "abstain" from publicly criticizing the Venezuelan government, so as not to jeopardize his petition for asylum. The lawyer and current Peruvian congressman arranged a meeting for Rosales with Peruvian Foreign Minister José García Belaúnde next Monday to discuss the petition for asylum.

The minister has publicly warned Rosales that he "cannot use Peru as a political platform," and said he will decide whether to grant asylum to Rosales within two weeks.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has designated a new ambassador to Perú. Aristides Medina Rubio, a university professor and administrator, will take his post in Lima "in the next few days," a Venezuelan Foreign Ministry statement said.